Refugees Worldwide, Assessment of Global Resettlement Needs and Resettlement in Canada - Statistical Overview 1993 - 1996

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

Refugees Worldwide, Assessment of Global Resettlement Needs and Resettlement in Canada

Statistical Overview 1993 - 1996

February 1997


NGOs in Canada have long been concerned that Canadian refugee resettlement is not reflective of the global refugee reality in terms of both overall numbers and the regions from which refugees are selected. In order to explore the basis of this concern, the following statistics have been compiled and have been reproduced as a series of graphs and charts. This information presents Canadian resettlement in the context of the global refugee need. It illustrates the extent to which resettlement is viewed as a solution for refugees by UNHCR and how the Canadian response compares. It also displays how few refugees in the world are viewed by UNHCR as needing resettlement, as well as the relatively small number resettled by Canada each year. Overall, it demonstrates the reality that resettlement is a solution not applied in proportion to refugee needs throughout the globe, but that it is used more often for refugees in some areas of the world versus others.

This commentary is intended to provide a broad overview, but by no means a comprehensive examination of the compiled data. Instead, it hopes to provide context, as well as highlight the more significant trends and suggest questions for future examination.

There are several explanations that are often given as to why resettlement is seldom offered to refugees. It is unanimously believed that it is not a solution for all. Instead, it is most often viewed as only one of three possible solutions - repatriation and local integration being the others. For some, it is viewed as the least preferred of the three.

Another reason given for resettlement's limited use is the fear that the potential cultural change resulting from resettlement is traumatic and should be avoided, unless no other solution is available. Instead emphasis should remain on repatriation. This view holds that greater effort should be made to assist refugees with returning to their country of origin. Further, refugees need to stay near their country of origin in order to encourage/assist them to eventually return to home, which resettlement would undermine.

A final rationale for the fact that few refugees are resettled focuses on resettlement countries. Resettlement is provided voluntarily and only a few countries have displayed a willingness to offer it. As a result, resettlement is limited by the willingness and ability of states to provide it. Thus, the small number of resettled refugees is a reflection more of states' willingness and capacity to provide such a solution, than of the needs of refugees.


This document attempts to compare: 1) Global Refugee Population - where the refugees of the world are located; 2) Number of Refugees Needing Resettlement - where refugee resettlement needs/priorities exist; and 3) Canadian Resettlement - from where Canada resettles refugees. In order to do so, three different sources of data were used for the years 1993-1995 (and partial statistics for 1996), since these are the most recent years for which statistics are available.

The statistics are not always directly comparable and as a result, inhibit the ability to draw precise conclusions. One obvious limitation is that the statistics reflect the area in the world that the refugees have found asylum. However, the numbers do not provide the refugee's country of origin. As a result, it is not possible to conclude that every refugee resettled from a region also fled a country of persecution from the same region. Still, the data does reflect those areas where resettlement is more likely to be offered as a solution. There are other limitations surrounding the data which are outlined below.

Global Refugee Population: For a reflection of the global refugee population, the U.S. Committee for Refugees annual World Refugee Survey was used. Determining the number of refugees in the world is obviously a difficult task. As the U.S. Committee for Refugees explains in their 1996 Report, the statistics represent their best judgement based on careful scrutiny of every reliable source available, but "...(i)n the end, many numbers prove to be very solid, but others are educated guesses." Further, the numbers do not distinguish between Convention Refugees, mandate refugees, OAU refugees, or other potential categories since it is improbable that a determination could be made for each of these people.

Number of Refugees Needing Resettlement: In order to identify where the refugees needing resettlement reside, the UNHCR's Annual Assessment of Global Resettlement Needs was used. To UNHCR's credit, it has acknowledged in recent Annual Assessments that the numbers it provides are not a conclusive list of the refugees needing resettlement, but are more a reflection of the resettlement needs which the UNHCR has identified. As a result, the statistics should not be interpreted as an exhaustive list of the refugees who might need or benefit from resettlement.

Nonetheless, the UNHCR statistics were used because no other body attempts to provide a global survey on resettlement needs. Further, UNHCR circulates this information to governments in the hope that resettlement spaces will be made available in response to its assessment. As a result, regardless of whether they are conclusive, the statistics are presented to governments in an attempt to have them adjust/plan their resettlement admissions accordingly.

Canadian Resettlement: The Canadian resettlement statistics are provided by Canada Immigration. The statistics reflect the number of individuals resettled through the government-assisted program, the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program and the Joint Assistance Program. It should be noted that some refugees do resettle in Canada through other immigration programs, e.g. family class and independent immigrants.

Not all those selected by Canada are refugees identified by UNHCR as needing resettlement, though Canada does claim that its visa post targets largely reflect the recommendations of UNHCR. Further, not all those selected by Canada may be Convention Refugees. Some may be individuals in a refugee-like situation and resettled under one of Canada's designated class programs. For example, those selected under the PPOP program would not be individuals identified by the UNHCR regardless of their need for protection through resettlement, since they by definition fall outside the UNHCR's mandate.


Tables 1- 6 and Graphs 1-3 and 20-21 together show how few refugees actually benefit from resettlement. Over this time period, of a global refugee population of 15-16 million, only 50,000-100,000 were viewed as needing resettlement by UNHCR, with Canada providing resettlement to 10,000-11,000 refugees each year. These numbers demonstrate how seldom resettlement is viewed as a solution for refugees and how few refugees are resettled in Canada.

The fact that UNHCR pursues this solution for so few refugees is most likely a reflection of the reality that, despite the relatively small number identified, not a year has passed that all of the refugees within its annual assessment have been resettled. As a result, it may seem unrealistic to promote a solution beyond which states appear willing to respond.

Questions can also be raised about the priority and apparent neglect of some regions by Canada in contrast to global numbers and UNHCR assessments. A comparison of some of the graphs shows that the UNHCR's assessment of resettlement needs regionally, and more so Canada's provision of resettlement, is not in keeping with international regional refugee needs.

The most glaring example of this inconsistency amongst regions is resettlement from Europe. Graphs 1-3 show that the refugee population in Europe has been relatively constant for the three-year period, around 2,500,000 refugees, making up about 15% of the global population. However, Graphs 4 -10 show that UNHCR in 1994 and 1995 was encouraging resettlement as a solution at a far greater proportion in Europe than its percentage of the world's refugee population, around 40% of the population identified for resettlement. Further, when also comparing these graphs with 11-14, it becomes clear that the proportion of Canadian refugee resettlement from Europe consistently exceeds their proportion within the global population. In 1994 and 1995 it is dramatically so. In 1994 - 51% and 1995 - 62% of all refugees resettled to Canada were from Europe, though they made up 15% of the global refugee population.

The increase in emphasis in the UNHCR's assessment on resettlement from Europe, is most likely a reflection of needs resulting from the war in former-Yugoslavia and the demands of front-line states for assistance through resettlement. In the case of Canada, the heavy proportional emphasis on Europe is also likely a result in part of the greater concentration of Canadian visa offices and staff in Europe than in other regions of the world.

An additional explanation may be that resettlement is more likely thought of as a solution for refugees in Europe because their plight may be more easily captured by the global media. An additional similar explanation is that the countries of asylum in Europe may be better poised or able to promote resettlement for the refugees in their territory than the countries of the South.

Refugees in other areas of the world, like Africa and the Middle East are not reflected proportionally in either UNHCR's Assessment or Canadian resettlement. In the case of the Middle East, UNHCR's proportions are more in keeping with the global population and in 1993 and 1995 actually exceed the proportion of refugees globally. In comparison Canada consistently resettles refugees from the Middle East at a lesser proportion (15%) than their make-up of the global refugee total (36%) and the UNHCR's assessment (43%). The large proportion of refugees identified by the UNHCR as needing resettlement from the Middle East is likely a reflection of the assessment that the large number of Iraqi refugees in Rafha camp in Saudi Arabia need resettlement.

Over the time period for Africa, an average of 14% of the refugees assessed as needing resettlement are in this region, which is smaller than the 35% they make up of the global total. Meanwhile, resettlement from Africa makes up only 10% of Canadian resettlement. The resettlement response of Canada to refugees in Africa is well demonstrated on Graphs 20 and 21. Similarly, the proportionally small number of refugees identified from Africa may be a reflection of the difficulty that UNHCR has had in finding countries willing to provide resettlement for refugees in this region. It is possible that if more states were willing to respond to resettlement needs in Africa, UNHCR would assess a higher proportion of refugees as needing resettlement from this region.

Regarding Asia, Canada resettles refugees at a level proportionally higher than the global total and overall more in keeping with the proportion of the global total than the assessment provided by the UNHCR. This is also similar with the case of the Americas.


It is unclear whether UNHCR's resettlement needs assessments are a reflection of existing needs or of states' willingness to provide such a solution. UNHCR is under the constant pressure to inform states of resettlement needs so that they may adjust their response accordingly. At the same time, it is aware that identifying needs that will go unanswered may undermine the provision of such a solution.

The data suggests many questions for further examination. Resettlement has never been promoted as a solution for all refugees or a specific percentage of refugee populations. Instead, it is said to be applied in response to specific situations. What is still not entirely clear are the factors which influence the decision to promote resettlement as a solution? UNHCR has established some criteria for resettlement. However, do the different views of resettlement have an effect? For some resettlement is a solution needing promotion that has provided a durable solution for thousands of refugees. Others view it as an instrument of last resort and may not be in the refugee's interest. What is the impact of competing visions of resettlement on the promotion of resettlement? A further question is, how much the willingness to provide such a solution is a factor in deciding whether resettlement will be promoted?

Historically, resettlement has been one of the most significant ways Canada has contributed toward refugee assistance. Canada has resettled refugees from all over the world, over many years and has been responsible for providing a durable solution for thousands of individuals. Further, it surpasses most other states in the number of people for whom it offers resettlement. Nonetheless, the reality is that many more could benefit from such a solution.

For Canada, a number of questions arise. What is an appropriate national response to the global resettlement need? To what extent is Canadian resettlement influenced by UNHCR suggestions? Is resettlement selection influenced by the reality of the presence of Canadian officials? In addition, what impact has admissibility criteria had in different regions?

The data may raise more questions than it answers. Nonetheless, the fact that over the time period, resettlement was less often promoted for refugees in Africa may be in part a reflection that countries like Canada appear less willing to respond to resettlement needs in this region. The overall question this study raises is, if Canada and other countries were more willing to offer resettlement from Africa and the Middle East in keeping with UNHCR assessments, is it possible that the UNHCR would be more willing to promote this durable solution in these regions or even internationally? Such actions could lead resettlement numbers to become more reflective of the global refugee reality.


  1. Number of refugees worldwide:
    The figures were taken from the U. S. Committee for Refugees' (USCR) publication World Refugee Survey. The numbers display refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection and/or assistance. Please see World Refugee Surveys 1994 - 1996 for further breakdowns and more detailed information.

  2. Assessment of resettlement needs:
    Numbers are taken from the UNHCR publication "Assessment of Global Resettlement Needs for Refugees" from 1993 to 1996.

  3. Resettlement under UNHCR auspices:
    Numbers are taken from the UNHCR publication "Worldwide Resettlement Statistics".

  4. Resettlement in Canada:
    Numbers are taken from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.


Refugees Worldwide, UNHCR Assessment of Resettlement Needs and Resettlement in Canada

Refugees Worldwide, Resettlement Needs and Resettlement in Canada by Year

Refugees Worldwide, Resettlement Needs and Resettlement in Canada by Region

Resettlement in Canada in Proportion to UNHCR's Assessment of Resettlement Needs

Resettlement in Canada in Proportion to the World's Refugee Population

Resettlement to Canada under UNHCR Auspices and Resettlement in Canada

Tables 1 - 4:
Absolute numbers and percentages of the world's refugee population as estimated by USCR, UNHCR assessment of global resettlement needs and resettlement in Canada.

*figure refers to available places rather than actual needs

*figure refers to available places rather than actual needs

* approx. six months's data

Graphs 1-3:
Absolute numbers of refugees worldwide, UNHCR resettlement assessment and resettlement in Canada.

top contents